Australians may choose to change head of state beyond Queen Elizabeth II: Howard

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has given his strongest indication yet that Australians may choose to change their head of state beyond Queen Elizabeth II's reign. The comments are the first from Mr Howard, a proud monarchist, casting doubt over the future of the monarchy in Australia.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Howard said that he did not believe Australia would become a republic while Queen Elizabeth II is on the throne, but he conceded that he did not know what would happen after Elizabeth II's reign ends.

"I do not believe this country would become a republic while the Queen is on the throne; beyond that I don't know," Mr Howard told the BBC.

In a separate interview with British broadcaster ITV, Mr Howard refused to predict whether he thought Prince Charles would become King of Australia and indicated that it would be for the Australian people to decide.

"Well, that is a matter for the Australian people, and I believe in democracy," he said.

"If the Australian people want to change the system, they will. But if they don't, they won't. The only prediction that I make is that I do not believe that this country will become a republic while the Queen is on the throne."

Republicans have seen significance in Mr Howard's comments. Ted O'Brien, Chair of the Australian Republican Movement said Mr Howard has provided some recognition for a possible Australian head of state.

"Mr Howard's recognition that it is very unlikely that the country will become a republic while the present Queen is on the throne indicates quite clearly that this may not be the case when Prince Charles takes over," he said.

"Mr Howard is an astute reader of the mood of the Australian people, and this change in language, if not in sentiment, is clearly some recognition of the likelihood of a future Australian head of state," added Allison Henry, ARM national director.

Monarchists are urging people not to make too much from Mr Howard's comments. Professor David Flint from Australians for Constitutional Monarchy said that to think Australia will become a republic based on Mr Howard's comments would be grasping at straws.

"He's just saying that he doesn't know the future, he can't tell the future, none of us can," he said.

"It would be grasping at straws for the republicans to say that this means Australia will become a republic or that the Prime Minister says that."

Tony Abbott, Australia's health minister and staunch monarchist said he did not believe Australia would become a republic after Queen Elizabeth II's reign. Mr Abbott told ABC that he believes the person on the throne is irrelevant: it is the institution that Australians admire.

"It's the institution, not the individual which really counts," he said.

"I am quite confident that were the Queen to pass on and her successor to occupy the throne that there would be the same magic and same personal affection between even Australians and our monarch."

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